The Internet of Things and the concept of the smart city go hand in hand. At Zolertia they know both well. The Catalan startup is doing everything possible to connect objects to the Internet, and its work in urban areas is already on display in cities like Barcelona.
Since last year, Zolertia has bet heavily on manufacturing its own products, explains its founder, Marc Fàbregas.The company started several years ago, but it got a boost when it was accepted in the Startup Bootcamp IoT incubator, through which it attended 4 Years From Now, an international program from Mobile World Capital, in 2015.
As Marc says, the primary characteristic the company’s products is that each is “an electronic product that integrates with other electronic products and provides Internet connectivity for other products. I sometimes describe it as the mobile phone for things: when we talk about people, they use mobile phones to connect to the Internet, to use a browser, to use Facebook or Twitter … Our technology does the same but for things: a window, a chair … Anything around you.”
For example, a window, a seemingly inanimate object, can have a sensor that will inform us about the weather outside based on the amount of light it receives at certain hour … “What we do is make things send us information via the Internet through sensors that allow those things to ‘say’ something.”
The company’s products stand out for “consuming very little”, that’s to say, requiring little power to operate. Just look at the video above: an object can transmit information thanks to the ‘energy’ received from a potato. The products are also noted for their long range, that is, their ability to communicate things at distances far from the Internet access point. “We are talking 10 or 12 kilometers away,” says Marc. This is important, for example, “with smart city or agriculture applications, where sensors are spread over a wide area of land.”
There are two types of Zolertia customers. “The first is more industrial; they are customers who buy greater quantities but there are few of them. They are mainly from Germany and northern Europe,” explains Marc.” And then there are smaller clients who start using our products to develop their own products, and they are scattered around the world, across 35 or 36 countries.” Companies like Cisco, Sony and Endesa use Zolertia’s tools, as do entrepreneurs and research centers related to the Internet of Things.
Recently the Barcelona-based company received 300,000 euros in a funding round for its product Re-Mote. “It’s a board, an electronic circuit that integrates into another that allows the connection of sensors, so that any object we can think of,” can be connected to the Internet. So far it is only available for advance order: we should expect a crowdfunding campaign to be launched soon.
The new product stands out for having a range 30 times greater than others before it and for consuming much less energy. For example, they managed to connect a toy Super Mario Bros Coin Box, making light up and play sounds from the game when a specific hashtag was mentioned on Twitter.
Enabling ‘Smart Cities’
Zolertia is closely linked to the concept of the smart city. What does the company bring to this interesting arena? As Marc tells us, they specialize in two areas. On the one hand, there is environmental monitoring (noise, air quality, composition, temperature, humidity…) – “we have various sensors in Barcelona that work with this technology inside” – and, on another, lighting.
“We have a pilot about to be launched, from a customer using our technology,” he explains. “It’s a product very focused on LED for controlling every streetlight in the city in a very independent way: programming them to turn on and off, managing light output…”
Marc believes that the business of smart cities in Europe “is doing fine”, with great examples such as Barcelona itself, Santander, Copenhagen, London and Oslo and initiatives like Arduino and Smart Citizen.”The best smart cities of the world are in Europe. In the US cities are too large, exceedingly so. It’s complicated.”
And what does the future hold for Zolertia? Marc says they have still two more products to release in 2015, “One focused more on a certain segment of consumers, and the other focused entirely on industry.” In the meantime, they continue to seek financing to expand internationally, especially to the United States (“where there’s most investment in the Internet of Things”) and Asia, two regions “offering the strongest markets.”